An Isuzu is the exact opposite of a politician: It usually under-promises and over-delivers. The new Isuzu MU-X – a seven-seater SUV to compete with the likes of the Toyota Fortuner and the Ford Everest – is no exception.
Jon Minster put the new Isuzu MU-X to the test – a seven-seater SUV to compete with the likes of the Toyota Fortuner and the Ford Everest.
Pull up in any parking lot in South Africa and you’ll see dozens of bakkie-based SUVs. Can you remember who made the first one? It was Isuzu – with their boxy Frontier way back in 1998. However, it was only when Toyota launched their Fortuner nearly a decade later that the segment exploded. These days, Toyota sells a thousand Fortuners a month. Other manufacturers have tried to grab a slice of this very lucrative pie with similar SUVs of their own – notably the Ford Everest, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and Chevrolet Trailblazer. Now Isuzu has joined the fray with the MU-X, which is built on the Trailblazer platform. (New Trailblazers are no longer sold in South Africa since General Motors pulled out of the country.) The MU-X looks sort of like a Fortuner and sort of like a Trailblazer. Nothing about it stands out or grabs your attention. It’s an introvert. It even has an introvert name! ( The moniker apparently stands for “multiutility crossover”.) But like R2-D2 in Star Wars, a random name and a humble exterior can belie an exceptional character… In May, I drove the new MU-X from Joburg to Clarens and back. In truth, the drive to the eastern Free State was boring. I searched hard for something to fault the Isuzu on, but nothing rattled, road noise was minimal, cruise control did its job and the built-in satnav got us there on time. The sound system was decent, the dash screen was big, climate control was intuitive and interior space was good. My overnight bag looked lonely in the enormous boot, which became less enormous when I folded the two jump seats out of the floor. (Isuzu claims these are suitable for adults, but like most jump seats in a seven-seater SUV, they’re better suited to children.) My one gripe was that it took four attempts to pair my iPhone via Bluetooth. I told you – boring! Then we drove a 4x4 trail beneath sandstone cliffs and that’s when the MU-X’s true character came to light. It lurched gleefully through muddy dongas and roared up slopes littered with head-sized rocks. The 3,0-litre diesel engine – the same as the one in the KB bakkie – got down to business with that nuts-and-bolts snarl that Isuzu owners know and love. And the suspension was a dream. It was immediately clear that this vehicle would be perfect for a family who regularly travels long distances to wilderness destinations: places where you don’t want to get stuck in the sand and where you want the engine to start every time you press the button. (Keyless entry – fancy.) The engine might be an older model, but at least it has proven long-term reliability, unlike many of the smaller turbo-diesels that have found their way into competitor vehicles. That reliability – combined with a low-range gearbox and electronic gadgetry like traction control, stability control and hill- descent control, plus a 5-star ANCAP safety rating and all the cabin modcons expected in 2018 – makes the MU-X a proper go-anywhere, do-anything SUV. (There’s also a 4x2 model with the same engine and a cheaper price tag.) But will you buy an MU-X instead of a Fortuner? The 4x4 Fortuner has similar specs to the MU-X. It has smarter styling and puts out extra torque, but it also costs nearly R18 000 more. It depends on the type of person you are. If you like your decisions to be validated by the herd, get a Fortuner. But if you wear sandals to formal events because they’re the most practical shoes you own, get the Isuzu. Like R2-D2, it’s an honest piece of machinery with a heart of gold.